Chapter 2 Leaving Home Part 1-22
Leaving Home Part 1
To say I was having problems with my home life was an understatement. I couldn’t continue to go on living with my parents. My mother and I were not getting along at all and then she would involve my father. Our fights had gotten out of control: Much like my Mom’s relationship with alcohol. The arguments, the quarrels, and the screaming had become so bad that one night my parents called the police and had me removed from their house. Its ‘1979 and I’m a sophomore in High School. It had been a living in Hell — a hell that I no longer wanted to live in and a hell that they didn’t want me to live in either.
I’m not even sure what this particular fight was about. I was never really sure what any fight was about. I knew that my mother was upset because my father travelled a lot and she was left in charge of everything. If we kids stepped out of the boundaries she established, the shit would hit the fan and our father would be called. Everything I did or said turned into a fight and a contest of wills. I had trouble understanding her logic and her rules. I felt that a lot of them were made up on the spot. It was like living in a pressure cooker. I couldn’t take it and I would lash back at her whenever she lashed out at me.
My brothers and my sisters were living at home at the time and would see these fights. They would become the targets of these arguments after I left but none of them would stand up for themselves, at least not until years later.
I needed to leave, because I felt like I was losing my mind. The funny thing that I remember about that night was that my mother told my Father she was concerned that the neighbors would talk, even though she was the one who had called the police.
I had very little time to gather my things. One of the cops entered our house and followed me into my bedroom. The other cop stood at the front door and waited for me. I could see neighbors looking at our house through their closed drapes, only pulling the sides to look out. Some neighbors stood outside on their front lawns to get a better view.
The cop car stood in our driveway. The lights on the top of the car were spinning, but they didn’t have the sirens on. It was a neighborhood-wide show as they marched me out. Things like this never happened in Guilderland.
One of the cops held the back door of the squad car open and asked me to “watch my head” getting in. I slid across the back seat of the car and the cop closed the door. I could hear the door lock but I remember that there were no locks that I could see on the door. I have never been more scared in my life.
“We have a place to take you tonight,” one of the officers said through the wire screen separating the seats. I met his eyes in the rear view mirror. He nodded his head at me and gave a smile. “You’re okay now,” he said and started the car.
The cop backed the car out of the driveway. I could see my parents standing in separate windows. Their faces were illuminated by the lights of the squad car.
Leaving Home Part 2
The cops proceeded to drive out of Guilderland and get onto the highway in the direction of Albany. “Are you okay?” one of the officers asks me. There is a mesh grate separating the front seat from the back. I just stare out the window into the night.
The squad car continues down the highway and as they put on their blinker, I see that we are entering the downtown Albany area. The ramp from the highway takes us to an exit right near the Albany bus station. Unfortunately, the area looks like a war zone. Empty storefronts, shady hotels, and burnt-out cars pepper the scene. Nobody lives or ventures this far downtown unless they’re destitute, looking for a prostitute, or wanting to buy some drugs. I have no idea where we are going. Out of the back window I can see a church that looks like it should be somewhere in Paris. It rivals Notre Dame, except that it seems like no one has been there in years, and its splendor has seen better days. The church stands abandoned, most of its windows smashed out. We pass several working girls who wave at the cop car as it passes.
Row after row of abandoned buildings line the block. I am scared but trying not to show it. We finally arrive and pull up next to a building that is as far downtown as you can get. There are no other buildings around it and it stands about three stories high. One of the cops walks around to the side of the squad car, opens the door, and motions to the building with one outstretched hand. “Welcome to your new home,” he says. The second cop is standing on the front steps. He explains to me that this is a runaway shelter named Equinox. It’s for troubled youths.
The first cop reaches out and rings the doorbell. I stand there and start to shake, expecting the worst. A light goes on above the front door and there seems to be a flurry of activity directly inside this door. Now I can see someone standing at the door on the other side of the window. The knob turns and the door gets yanked inwards. Directly in front of me stands a chubby little man about four feet, three inches tall, with flaming orange hair that shoots out in all directions. I would guess his weight at about two hundred pounds. It appears as if we just woke him up. He smiles, showing a mouth full of dead teeth. He is wearing a black Hells Angels t-shirt. A chain attached from his front pocket crosses his leg and is joined to his wallet in the back. “Hellooooooooooooooooo,” he says, rolling his eyes and puffing out his cheeks. He looks at me and the cops and exclaims, “Jinkies, it’s the cops, what can I do you for officers?” I can tell that he is trying to put me at ease. The other cop puts his hand on my back and pushes me forward.
“Laroy, this is a new ward of the state.” Laroy tips an imaginary hat and bows deep. “ ’ellooooo, young master, you’re going to like it here, and you’ll get an extra cup of gruel just for the asking.” He laughs to himself and shakes his head. He motions us to come inside and the cops flank me, one in front and one in the back. I’m sure that they are used to people trying to break and run.
They lead me into an office right off the main entry way. Laroy pulls out a chair and reaches into his back pocket, pulling out a bandana that he uses to dust off the imaginary dirt on the chair. He laughs again and motions for me to sit, then takes the chair directly across from me. On the wall behind him is newspaper picture of Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Someone has taken a black pen and given Ronald an Adolf Hitler hairdo and mustache. Laroy follows my eyes to the poster. “I don’t know who did it,” he says and then mouths the words, “The Führer,” to me. He stands up quickly, walks over to a desk and grabs a large ledger book. “Oops, almost forgot,” he says. Returning to his chair, he pushes the book across the desk to the cops. One of the cops checks the time on his watch and signs the book. As the cops start to leave, one of them turns back to me and says, “If you need us, you call,” and with that, they are gone.
“They’re gonna break out the booze,” Laroy says, slapping his thigh. I try not to laugh, but I’m starting to feel safe for one of the first times in my life.
Laroy begins to give me the rules and the history of where I am and it’s called Equinox.
Leaving Home Part 3
“The first rule,” Laroy says, leaning forward on the desk, “is to never talk about Equinox while you live here. There are several at-risk teens who call this home. The second rule is to make sure that no one follows you to the door. We have had a lot of people try to break in to get to someone.” He stands up and walks over to the office door. “That’s why we have this.” Leaning over, he grabs a baseball bat. He swings it and hits an imaginary ball, watching it fly into the crowd, and then makes cheering noises. “Home run,” he says, and laughs. He walks back to the desk, using the bat as a cane. “Rule three: no drugs of any kind. You can smoke cigarettes, but no weed.” He continues, “I was in the Hells Angels and I know what weed smells like, so please don’t test my skills.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down and giggles.
“You’re gay, aren’t you?” Laroy asks, narrowing his eyes. “We had a guy named Louie in the Hells Angels, he was gay. What a good friend.” Laroy gets a far-away look in his eyes. I try hard to imagine what he could be thinking. I also try to imagine how accepting the Hells Angels are of gays in their club.
“Now, you can only live here for one month. We don’t have any more room than that,” Laroy says pointing a finger at me. Six months later we would laugh about that rule. Laroy stands up, walks over to a filing cabinet behind me, ruffles through it and pulls out a list of rules. Handing a copy to me, he says, “Here’s more that I can’t remember.” He giggles again and adds the word “Voila!”
There are rules about smoking, house meetings, bathrooms, bedrooms, sex, school, and mandatory meetings that you need to attend with a therapist. “You will also be assigned to a case worker,” Laroy says, “but we will worry about that tomorrow.” He stands up and motions me to follow him into the hallway. A large mirror above a table reflects my image back at me. My eyes look empty and hollow. Things had gotten so bad at home that it feels like I am no longer inside myself.
Laroy turns and walks to the end of the hall. The first room on the right holds the dining room and an upright piano. The sheet music for “The Me Nobody Knows” sits on the music rack. Laroy continues walking. Through the dining room is a door that takes you into the kitchen. He reaches over and opens the fridge. It is stocked to the gills. Laroy says to me “You must be hungry. I know I am.” He reaches into the fridge and starts to pull out food. He crosses over to a cabinet and pulls down two of everything: two plates, two cups, two glasses, and a handful of napkins. He opens the bread and starts to make me a sandwich. He fills my glass with chocolate milk and does the same for himself. Handing me my glass, he raises his and says, “To new beginnings and schizophrenia!” He clinks my glass, then drinks down the chocolate milk, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “Grab your sandwich and I will show you around.” That said, Laroy leaves the kitchen.
Leaving Home Part 4
I follow quickly. Laroy is walking and talking. He’s giving me the history of the house as we go. “It has two additional stories to it,” Laroy tells me. One floor is for the youth who need to stay, and another floor is just for the staff. Climbing the staircase to the second floor, we pass the bathroom. “That’s one of four,” he adds. Slightly winded, Laroy pauses and places one hand on the railing. He coughs into his hand and waits to catch his breath.
From where I am standing I can hear a television. Laroy takes in another breath, straightens up, and continues the climb. We walk into the room at the very top of the stairs. “The TV room,” Laroy says with a sweep of his hand. In the center of the room is a giant old black and white TV. Scattered around the room are several boys and girls. Everyone is smoking. “Everyone,” Laroy says, addressing the kids who don’t seem to move or look at him, “this is Geoff. Make him feel at home.” A couple of people look at me.
Laroy goes around the room and introduces people. “Vinny, Christine, Sherry, Alice, and Jay T. Tucker, this is Geoff.” Sherry has a large afro with a pick sticking out of it. The end of the pick is a clenched fist. She looks at me and nods her head. Jay T. Tucker lifts his head, looks and me and tells me that he’s “a mean mother fucker.” “I’ll remember that,” I say.
Christine looks like a little bird, she is bone white and thin, with a head of uncombed black hair. She coughs into her hand, and I notice that her hand is very small and her fingers are red. She looks at me; her eyes are smudged with mascara. She holds onto Vinny’s arm even tighter than she already had been.
Vinny is tall, thin, and has his hair cut like Mick Jagger’s. He is wearing combat boots, and has one foot on the floor, the other on the couch. “Can you move?” he says to me, “You’re blocking the set.” “Oh, sorry,” I say and quickly step to my left. Jay T. is staring at the TV. I believe that he might have a disability.
Laroy motions with his hand for me to follow him. We walk into a small entry way next to the TV room. There are three doors off this common room. “Tonight you share.” He motions to one of the rooms and opens the door.
The room is small, with two beds. There are psychedelic glow-in-the-dark posters on one wall, and on the floor by one of the beds is a skull with a candle on it. It’s a skull that you would buy in the mall at Spencer Gifts. Laroy points at the empty bed. I walk over and sit on it.
“Make yourself at home. I’m on the overnight shift tonight,” Laroy says while stepping back into the hallway. “I’ll be downstairs, come down when you are done.” And with that he is gone.
I sit on the bed and look around the room. “Welcome to your new life,” I say. I lie down on the bed, and tears flow quickly from my eyes. Twenty minutes later the door opens and in walks Vinny. He stands in the doorway and looks at me.
“Shit, are you crying?” he asks. “No,” I say quickly wiping my face. “Good,” he says. “I don’t want you crying when I give you a skull fuck.” With that said he reaches behind himself and pulls the door closed.
Leaving Home Part 5
Now, I’m not sure what a skull fuck is, but I can figure it out as Vinny takes a step closer to me while unbuckling his pants. I slide as far up to the top of the bed as I can get. “Scream and I’ll kill you,” Vinny says to me, a crooked smile crossing his face. I’m thinking as quick as I can, looking around the room for anything I might be able to use to stop him.
Vinny takes another step towards me and the adrenaline builds up in me like fuel looking for a place to escape. I spring into the air and knock him to the floor. Landing with both knees on his chest, I begin to pummel him. “Stop it,” he screams. The adrenaline in me cannot keep me from punching him repeatedly. All my pain and fear is leaving me through my fists.
Suddenly the door bursts open and Laroy steps in. “What the fuck is going on?” he screams. “He’s trying to kill me,” Vinny screams. With one hand Laroy grabs the back of my shirt and flings me into the air. I crash into the wall and slide to the floor, knocking over Vinny’s altar with the skull candle on it. Vinny shrieks and runs to save his skull after it hits the floor.
Laroy looks at me and points a finger. “We don’t kill people around here,” he says, his face turning a bright red. “Oh yeah, do you skull fuck people here?” I ask. “What the hell are you talking about?” Laroy says, looking between Vinny on the floor cleaning up his broken altar and me. “He told me that he was going to skull fuck me and he had me cornered.” Laroy looks at Vinny who is looking at me and mouthing the words, “shut up.” “Again?” Laroy screams, this time grabbing Vinny and bringing him to his feet. “How many times do I have to tell you, we don’t tell people we’re going to skull fuck them?” Laroy grabs Vinny by the back of his collar and in one move drags him out of the room.
“You’re dead!” Vinny screams. I can hear him being dragged down the stairs. I lie down on the bed and stare at the wall. Hours later I am awoken by the sound of Vinny walking back into the room. “Stupid faggot,” he mumbles under his breath.
He undresses silently and climbs into his bed. “You are so dead,” he whispers in my direction. I’m lying awake but pretending that I am asleep. I only relax when I can hear him snoring softly.
Leaving Home Part 6
When I wake up the next morning, Vinny is still snoring. Someone is walking through the house and banging on doors. I can hear a flurry of activity, including doors being opened and slammed. There is a lot of noise, but Vinny is sound asleep, still snoring away. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I slide out of bed, throw on my jeans, and slip out into the hallway.
In the hallway a small hippie-looking woman wearing thick glasses and Birkenstock sandals is standing outside the bathroom door on the landing. “You have four more minutes,” she’s yelling to whomever is in the shower. I can hear the water running.
As I start to slide past her she looks up, stopping me. “Lorraine,” she says, extending her hand. I reach out my hand and grasp hers. “You must be Geoff,” she says, looking into my eyes. “Laroy told me all about you.” Her hands are rough and slightly cold. She leans closer to me. “Also, don’t worry about Vinny, he means you no harm.” I can tell from her look that she is trying to communicate that everyone here has problems. I nod my acknowledgement to what she has said, and head down the stairs.
What was a quiet place last night is now a beehive of activity. There are about fifteen people running around. Everyone seems to have a task. Some are cooking breakfast and getting the resident kids on their way to school, others are moving in and out of the office. Across from the office is the telephone we are allowed to use. Sherry is sitting there on the phone, silently using the pick on her hair. She looks up at me smiles and mouths the words, “court today.”
I walk to the end of the hallway and into the kitchen, where food is laid out in cafeteria style. There seem to be massive pans of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and oatmeal. People swarm around me on their way to whatever they are doing. Everyone who passes reaches out a hand, rubbing my back, touching my arm, or giving the occasional hug. There are so many staff members and so many names to learn. My head is spinning.
I walk into the dining room. Jay T. Tucker is happily gobbling down a stack of pancakes. He looks up at me. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” I say. He laughs and a gob of pancake lands on his chin. I am now more convinced than ever that he is retarded.
Lorraine walks up behind me, and wraps her arm around my neck. “Your social worker just got here. You will not go to school today, but meet with her. We will call the school and let them know where you are. Grab some food and a seat,” she says, gently pushing me toward the food.
Walking back into the kitchen, I take a plate, put a pancake and some egg onto it, grab a coffee, and head back into the dining room. Christine has now joined Jay T. She looks up at me and quickly looks back down to the torn-up paper napkin in front of her. As I sit down, she gets up and storms out of the room.
Leaving Home Part 7
I look over at Jay T., who is still stuffing his face. “She’s a bitch,” he says through a mouth full of egg. Someone behind me asks, “Are you Geoff?” I turn around. Standing in the door is a large woman dressed all in black. Her hair is piled on top of her head, and she has glasses on a chain hanging around her neck.
Taking two steps forward, she pulls out a chair and plops down into it, making cups on the table jump. Jay T. is oblivious to her and stares at the chandelier. The sun is making a light dance around it and he is transfixed by it. The woman has a cup of coffee in her hand, she takes a spoon and swirls it around the inside of the cup, making an obnoxious clinking sound. “Donna is my name, and I’m your new social worker.”
I think to myself that since I never had a social worker before, she will be my only social worker. “I have already started a file on you, so finish up and we’ll talk.” Her eyes get real big, and while grabbing a piece of bacon off my plate, she pushes out her chair and stands up. Popping the bacon in her mouth, she turns and walks in the direction of the office. Her large hips sway side to side. “She’s a bitch,” Jay T. says with a laugh, spitting more eggs into the air.
I drink my coffee and push away from the table. I’m not hungry, but I want to check out the backyard. I glimpsed it through the window in the kitchen. From what I saw, it’s part garden, part basketball court. I walk out of the dining room, through the kitchen, and into the backyard. The garden is a little overgrown and the basketball court is a gravel driveway that used to be blacktop.
Standing behind the house, I see that Christine is out in the backyard smoking. Her nervous eyes dart back and forth, she looks lost in thought. She spots me walking down the driveway towards her and hugs her body closer. She has thin white arms. Raising her cigarette to her lips she mutters to me and asks if I want one. It seems to me as if she is going out of her way to make some sort of effort. “I would love one,” I say.
She shakes a cigarette loose in the pack and offers it to me. “Rough night?” she asks. There is red around her eyes, making me believe that she cried the night away. It also seems pretty clear to me that Vinny hasn’t let her know about his trying to skull fuck people before they sleep.
“Yeah,” I say, putting the cigarette between my lips. It’s a Marlboro Light, my favorite. Christine holds up a lighter. I lean forward and light my cigarette. “Do you go to school?” I ask. Christine’s laugh in response to my question creates a smoky cough. Covering her mouth with the back of her hand she hacks up phlegm and spits it on the ground. “I go to Albany High, if you can call it a school. If you make it home at the end of the day and you haven’t been raped in the bathroom, it’s been a good day.” She laughs again, spitting up more phlegm. “Oh shit,” Christine says as Lorraine opens the back door, popping her head out. “Christine let’s go, it’s time for school.”
“Gotta go,” says Christine as she takes two steps before flicking her cigarette over the fence into the lot next door. As she walks past me, Christine’s face changes and a big grin appears. She is looking towards the house. I look to see where she is looking and there at the window is Vinny, standing behind the glass. Once Christine walks into the house she gives Vinny a quick kiss. As Christine passes, Vinny sticks his head out the back door, stares at me, puts his fingers to his eyes, then points at me. I assume this means that he is watching me. He turns and walks back into the house. I finish my cigarette, flick it over the fence like Christine did, and walk back into the house.
Leaving Home Part 8
Back in the kitchen, I can hear Donna’s booming voice calling my name. I quickly head down the hallway to the main office. “Have a seat,” she says, motioning with her hand. A lone chair has been set up for me. It looks as though I am about to be interrogated.
“I have to go through a couple of things with you,” she says, pulling a pen out of her hair, starting with what you can expect from us, and what we expect from you.” One of our first goals is to become a liaison between you and your parents. What can you tell us about them?” she asks, preparing to write. “Well once,” I say, my voice breaking, “my mom took me to a recruiting station to have me join the Army while my dad was at work.” “How old were you?” Donna asks, her eyes getting big. “Fourteen, I’d say.” She sighs and leans forward. “What happened?” “Well,” I say trying not to well up with tears, “first they said I was too young to enlist but they would wait, and then out of fear I bolted for the door.” Donna blows air out of her mouth and shakes her head. “Later I got grounded for trying to run.”
Donna is holding a legal pad, and she begins to tap it with the pen from her hair. “How is your relationship with them now?” “Not good,” I say. “Well, my Mom and I didn’t get along at all. She used to take me to a therapist when I was younger, but when they told her that she was the problem, she looked for another therapist.” “How many therapists have you seen?” Donna asks. “Oh, about six or seven.” Donna squints her eyes.
“What happened last night?” Donna asks, trying to change the subject. “Can we talk about that later?” I beg, as tears start to well up in my eyes again. “Of course,” she says. “I’m going to call your school today and we will figure out what we are going to do with you.” She smiles and I give her all the information on who she needs to call at my school. It seems like our interview is over for a moment and she picks up the phone to dial Information for the number atGuilderland High School.
Sitting in the chair, I am a little worried. We have started rehearsals for the school show. We are doing Brigadoon and I’ve landed the role of Harry Beaton. They gave me an understudy because it was pretty clear that I was going through something at home. I will be damned if he gets to do the part, but the show must go on.
I see that Donna is on hold with the school. Placing her hand over the receiver, she tells me to wait outside. I nod and walk into the hallway. The house seems empty and quiet now that everyone has gone to school. It looks like I will have the day off. I climb the stairs and head into the TV room. I am the only one home, so the TV is off. The rest of the staff is moving throughout the house. Everyone seems to be in the middle of projects. Lorraine is wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a toilet brush. She keeps pushing her glasses up with her forearm in between scrubbing. “Are you bored?” she asks, waving the brush at me. “Want to help clean the toilet?” “No thanks,” I say and continue down the hall.
I walk into the entryway that houses some of the bedrooms, and find a chair to sit in. Throwing my legs up, I lie down on my back and stare up at the tin ceiling. Pretty soon, I am out cold. It’s not long. I wake up about twenty minutes later to Donna calling my name. I sit up, and am still feeling groggy as I head back down the stairs.
“Well, I just got off the phone with your school; they are wondering how we can make this work.” Donna sighs, “Maybe we will have to send you to Albany High.” In my head I hear Christine’s comments about being not being raped in the bathroom making it a good day at Albany High. “I can make it work,” I say, the panic rising in my voice. “Okay,” Donna says, “well, let’s see what we can do.”
That night I call my friend Kerry. She has been worried about me and what happened. “It’s all over school that the police were at your house last night,” she tells me. The only plus is that Kerry knows my parents. It’s been hard because I’ve never been allowed to have friends over at the house, but Kerry would always pick me up in her car and drive me wherever I needed to go. It seems like I’ve always been in trouble and always grounded while living at home. In many ways Kerry is saving my life that day by offering to help out. The plan is that I will take a bus from Albany to Stuyvesant Plaza, and Kerry will meet me there and give me a ride to school.
The next day I tell Donna, and she thinks this is a great idea.
Leaving Home Part 9
For the next several months I settle into life at the Equinox shelter. I rise early in the morning, eat, and take the city bus into Guilderland. The stop is located 45 minutes away at a strip mall called Stuyvesant Plaza. Once I arrive, Kerry meets me and drives me to school. Then she takes me back at the end of the day. Kerry does this day in and day out, never once asking for anything in return. I am happy and have very little stress in my life. I haven’t been fighting with anyone, and the constant battles with my mother seem to be in the past.
It is now the six-month mark. Jay T. Tucker and I are the only ones from the original group who are still living at Equinox. Donna, my social worker, has been trying to find me a permanent home, but it has not been as easy as you might think. According to them [the staff ??], I’m not a problem child, so it will be harder to place me. One solution that sounds good to Donna is Parsons Child and Family Center. Their main headquarters are located in Albany. One day Donna takes me over to look at their school and facilities. The main buildings are located just off New Scotland Avenue. As we climb out of Donna’s car she tells me that Parsons has group homes in both Albany and Saratoga, as well as an independent living center in Albany.
We are let into the building by security. There seem to be security guards posted everywhere. One guard walks us down long hallways that have locked doors on each end. There are more security guards posted in front of them. So far this does not seem like the kind of place where I want to be left, and I look at Donna. She seems to be as nervous as I am.
Then we are lead into the director’s office. The director is a large woman dressed in drab blue. I guess she thought that black might be too dowdy for this institution. She smiles at us and I sense that it is just for show, and she seems more uncomfortable doing it than we do seeing it. I feel that Donna and I might as well be Hansel and Gretel.
With a sweep of her hand, she motions for us to take a seat. Pulling out the chair, I look at the name plate on the desk. Her name is Margaret. She notices that I am reading her name plate and smiles again. My stomach drops. “I have read all the notes in his file,” she says, looking at Donna and leaning back in her chair. “I think that this might be the perfect place for him.”
Donna smiles and asks when a bed might be ready. Margaret reaches across the desk and opens a large black ledger book. She flips the pages furiously. “In about a month,” she says. Donna and Margaret discuss formalities. “Is he a ward of the state?” I hear her ask. “At this time he is, but we have registered to make him an emancipated minor, and luckily that hearing takes place in front of the judge in two weeks.”
Leaving Home Part 10
Two weeks pass in a blink of an eye. I am now standing out in a hallway at Child and Family Court in Albany, New York. My parents are at one end of the hall, and I’m standing alone by myself at the other end. Donna and the lawyer have gone in search of the women’s bathroom.
My mother looks at me, her eyes all red from crying. It might be for real, but I’ve seen this before. She looks in my direction and shakes her head; her pain has come to the surface. I am not moved, but I wonder why she is playing this card. It is clear that she needs to look like a mother who has done everything, and look where it has gotten her.
Donna and the lawyer hurry back, Donna’s heels clicking on the marble floor. Seeing where I am standing, the lawyer takes my arm and pulls me out of the view of my mother. We enter the courtroom. The judge is a large man who stares down at me; his glasses sit at the end of his nose. He looks at me and smiles. “How are you doing today?” he asks. “Fine,” I answer, afraid to look at him, in fear that I will be sent to jail. Donna has explained to me a million times that this is a hearing so I can move into a group home. I need to be declared an Emancipated Minor in order to be granted custody of myself.
The whole hearing takes about twenty minutes. Through sobs and tears, my mom explains that she has done her best, but that I am a menace and turning her house into an emotional shambles. We both decide it is better that I don’t return. The judge shakes his head as my mother finishes. I’m sure that he has seen many an emotional parent standing in front of him and can tell what is really going on.
It has always seemed weird to me that I was adopted because they “wanted” me, and now I am being “thrown away” because it is not working out their way. So many things happened in that house and under that roof. I remember that one night when I came home, my mother sat me down to wait for my father to get home. When he did arrive they told me that they thought I was gay. It was going to be their job to take me to therapy to “fix me.” This led to oh, so many fights. Once, on the way to meet the therapist, I even jumped out of my father’s moving car and ran into the woods.
Standing in front of the judge got me to wondering where I would be going now. My life as I knew it would be changing. After the hearing Donna took me and the lawyer out for ice cream. I didn’t even watch my parents walk out of the courtroom.
Leaving Home Part 11
I return to the Equinox shelter, and life returns to my “new normal.” Mornings are spent taking the bus to Stuyvesant Plaza, getting picked up and driven to school. Few people know what I am going through and I try to keep it that way. I have never been a very good student in school, and all this makes it even harder.
One day I come home from school to find that Donna is waiting for me. Ushering me into the office, she explains that Parsons Child and Family Center has a bed for me and I will be moving into one of their group homes. The only problem is that the house that has a spot for me is in Saratoga. “This is good news,” she says, “you will have whole new life to look forward to.” I explain that I looked forward to fixing my old life. I’m worried. I don’t know anyone in Saratoga and I will be starting school there in the middle of my junior year. “Mrs. Vanderbilt-Whitney lives in Saratoga,” Donna reminds me. “Am I living with her?” I ask.
Donna tells me that there is no other place for me to go and that this is the best thing for me. Standing up, she motions with her hand for me to leave the office and that our talk is over. I have four weeks left at the shelter before I will be moved, so it’s time to say my goodbyes.
I go into the kitchen and find Jay T. Tucker stuffing a chocolate cupcake into his mouth. He looks up at me and smiles. “Well, old friend,” I say sitting down next to Jay T., “it looks like my time is up here.” Jay T. starts to tell me that he has left the shelter two previous times and has been returned. “Is that because you’re a mean mother fucker?” I ask. He laughs, spitting cupcake onto the table. He pushes himself back from the table and stands up. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I add. He starts to pound on his chest. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I add again. Now we begin to march around the table in rhythm to our new song. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings and points at me. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I sing back. Round and round the table we march, when Laroy walks in the room and joins in. Now the three of us are marching around the table singing, “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker and a mean mother fucker is he.”
That night in the TV room I get to meet two new kids who will be living at shelter for a couple of nights until the staff figure out what to do with them. One of them will be staying in my room and one will be staying in the hall across from me. The kid who will be staying with me is named Tom. His friend’s name is Alex. It turns out that they are both runaways who arrived from Buffalo. They got picked up by the police at the bus station where they spent the night sleeping on the chairs. When questioned, they didn’t have any bus tickets and refused to talk about their families. After a day, the police brought them here.
Tom and I stayed up late and he told me all about his life. Alex snuck across the hall and joined us. I told them to stand at the top of the stairs where you can hear Laroy’s snoring coming from the office. If you can hear it, then the coast is clear. The rule is that once “lights out” is called, everyone needs to be found in their own room. No one challenges any of Laroy’s rules.
The next couple of days at school are strange. I tell only my closest friends that I will be leaving and living in Saratoga. It is too hard to explain and I find that saying goodbye is very tough for me.
I come home two nights later and Donna is waiting for me in the office again. She introduces me to a woman who is creating a brochure for the shelter and wonders if I would like to design the cover. I am over-the-moon and I’m told that I only have two days to do it. I get to work right away.
Three nights later a news station comes to the shelter to do a story about what they do and Donna asks me to be a part of it. The news channel doesn’t want to show my face but they get a shot of my cowboy boots walking down the sidewalk and into the front door. I am now the poster child of the runaway set, except that I never “ran away.”
Leaving Home Part 12
Two weeks later, Tom and Alex have brought a joint into the shelter. Everything has seemed to be heading in a direction to put me on “a path” in life. I would finish up my time at Equinox, move to Saratoga to live in a group home, and then go off to college. Tom and Alex stand at the top of the stairs and wait to hear Laroy’s snoring before they open my door. “Come across the hall,” whispers Alex, motioning with his hand. “We are going to smoke some weed.” Silently we cross the hallway and enter Alex’s room.
I had been in Alex’s room before but now he was living alone. His roommate recently worked out his problems with his parents and moved back home. Against one wall of Alex’s room is a pile of mattresses that are kept there as storage. Our job in the morning is to move them to a storage room on the upper floor of the building. People are always donating things to the shelter, and since our numbers are always growing, the donations come in handy.
We get the idea to block the door with the mattresses so that no one can get in and surprise us. Alex reaches in the front pocket of his jeans and pulls out a joint, he then places it in his mouth. Pausing to smile, he takes a lighter out of his pocket and lights up.
The smoke curls around Alex’s head as he inhales deeply and holds the smoke in his lungs. Tom reaches out and takes the joint from Alex holding it between two fingers. “Smells like skunk,” says Tom with a laugh. Alex gives him the thumbs up.
We sit on the fire escape for about twenty minutes, talking about what our dreams are when we get out of here. Tom and Alex want to see the world and travel across the country. I want to move to New York City and become a dancer.
We finish the joint and while we’re climbing back in through the window, it sounds like someone is pounding on the bedroom door. “Open this door now!” screams the person on the other side of the door. It is Laroy. “I know you’re smoking weed!” he screams. Alex and Tom run across the room and lie against the mattresses, trying to block Laroy from coming in. Laroy, tired of asking us to open the door, begins to kick it down. The crunching and splintering sound created by the door as it crashes in is deafening.
Once through the door, Laroy butts the mattresses and sends Tom and Alex flying across the room. I stand there with my mouth hanging wide open, completely in shock. “The police are on their way,” screams Laroy, as he takes the mattresses and tosses them as if they weighed nothing.
The Albany police, ever none too subtle, pull up in front of the building with their lights flashing. Laroy grabs at the air as we try to dive past him. Somehow this tiny little ex-Hells Angel kicks in a door, throws mattresses around, and grabs three boys as they jump out of his way.
Laroy drags us down the stairs and into the office. We can see the police at the front door. Laroy throws each of us into a chair and pointing, screams, “Don’t anyone move!” Running to the front door, he opens it and in a calm voice says, “Gentlemen, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” The cops laugh and walk into the office. You can hear their walkie-talkies going off, as one of the officers pushes his hat back off his head. “You got any more on you?” he asks, scanning the three of us.
“No……no…no sir,” Alex stammers. “Well, you’d better not,” he responds. Speaking into his radio, one of the cops walks back out of the room. The one who stays begins to give us a lecture on the evils of smoking marijuana. While he is talking, his partner re-enters the room and begins to go through our pockets.
Thank God they never found anything. When he was done with his speech, he tipped his hat to Laroy and he and his partner walked back out into the night. “Tonight is your last night,” said Laroy. “Go back to your rooms. In the morning you have to leave.”
Leaving Home Part 13
Now what do I do? I have no plan B. In the morning I am going to be forced to pack my stuff and go. Where do I go? Into the street? What have I done? I am so close to moving to Saratoga to live in a group home and now it is all screwed up.
We walk silently back to our rooms. I have never seen Laroy so pissed off. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Laroy angry before. Every time we turn on the stairs to look back, Laroy just points with his finger to the top of the stairs and screams, “Move!”
In complete silence Tom and I go into our room, and Alex returns to his across the hall. “I am screwed,” I tell Tom. Tom just looks into space. “What the hell am I going to do?” I ask. Tom shakes his head. We both get ready for bed and this time we don’t leave our room.
I spend the whole night staring at the ceiling. I have nowhere to go in the morning. It is all over. Silently, I slide out of bed and pack my things. Tom rolls over and looks at me. Not a word passes between us. An hour before the staff arrives for the morning shift, I fall asleep. When I wake up, Tom is not in the room. I open the door and look out to see if I can spot him or Alex. Walking into the hallway I peer around the corner so I can look into the TV room. No one is in there either. I walk back into the hallway and lean over the banister. It’s a great way to see if anything is going on downstairs.
As usual, it is a beehive of activity. I listen closely and I can hear snippets of words. It sounds like the staff is in disbelief as to what went on last night. While I am eavesdropping, Donna appears directly under me. She just happens to glances up at that moment, and as she catches sight of me, she shakes her head in disgust. “I’ll be here when you get downstairs,” she says to me, walking into the office without a backward glance in my direction.
My brain is in full panic mode. What do I do now? My things are packed. I believe that they will stay true to their word and throw me out. I have seen it happen before. If you don’t like the rules here, you get asked to leave. Smoking weed is not only illegal, it is in strict violation of their policies.
It is time to face the music. I have taken the longest shower and dressed as slowly as possible. I can no longer put it off. To get out of the building, I have to walk past the office. Standing at the top of the landing, I take each step as if I am walking to the gallows. The steps squeak as I put my weight on them, betraying me and announcing my slow arrival. At the bottom of the stairs I see no one around. As I walk down the hallway to the main office, I can hear a gathering in the kitchen behind me.
I step into the office and there is no one there. I am alone. No Donna, no staff. Then I notice that someone has left my file on the table. I walk quickly over there and thumb through it. Everything that I have ever done in the shelter is clearly documented. The night I arrived by police escort, all the court dates, interactions with my family, and all the staff’s private notes are now sitting in a file right in front of me. I act without thinking and grab a Yellow Pages phone book. Placing it on the table over my file, I grab both the Yellow Pages and the file. My heart is racing as I turn out of the office and head to the stairs. Everyone is in the kitchen is still having a meeting over coffee.
Quickly, I head up the stairs and run into my bedroom. I can feel my pulse throbbing in my neck. Throwing my file into my bag, I zip it up and head back into the hall. I look both ways as I enter the hallway near Alex’s room. Once there, I go over to the window and throw open the sash. I duck my head and swing my legs out onto the fire escape. Grabbing my bag I pull myself out onto the landing and slide the window closed. Very quietly I take each step towards the ground. These metal stairs don’t betray me. Now sweat is starting to form on my brow. I wipe it off with the back of my hand. At the last step I jump to the ground, run around the back into the alley, and disappear.
Leaving Home Part 14
The first thing I did was to make it over to the Albany bus depot three blocks away. There I used a payphone to call my friend Kerry. Thank God, it was early enough in the morning that she was still at home and she picked up on the first ring. After hearing my story she said, “I’m not sure you can stay at my house, but we can ask around.”
“I walked another three blocks over to the corner Washington Avenue and Lark Street to catch the bus to Stuyvesant Plaza. I was feeling like a wanted fugitive, so I stood a little way back from the street and kept my head down. I was hyper-aware that at any moment someone from the shelter could come driving past and make me get into the car or worse, they might have called the police, and I could be forced to get into the back of a police car. It took about twenty five minutes for the bus to come, and I climbed aboard with my head down.
Kerry was waiting for me by the time the bus pulled in. I ran over, climbed in her car and we drove to school. “Tell me again what happened for you to run away from the shelter?” she asked, pulling out onto the highway.
I went through the story again and Kerry inserted various “wows” when I reached the parts about smoking weed, getting caught with it, and then being told I would have to leave. “What do you think that you’re going to do now?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “I am going to ask several friends at school if I can stay with them.” I didn’t have a lot of time to find a place to spend the night. I knew that it was a lot to ask of someone, but to then ask them to let me live full time with them? Even I knew that was almost too much to ask.
Kerry pulled into the school parking lot at Guilderland High and looked directly at me. “Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded and fought back the tears. “It will work out,” she said. “I know,” I responded, opening the car door. Pausing, I asked, “Can I leave my bag in your car?” “Of course,” she said, and we headed into the school.
I ran to homeroom before the bell and checked in. Our homerooms were organized by last name, so everyone in my homeroom’s last name started with the letter D. Thank God that one of my best friends Debbie was there. I needed the laughs and the support. Debbie was one of the funniest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to get to know. We had started a school newspaper together once — well, more like a flier — that had a great exposé on various cheerleaders in our homeroom. I quickly went into homeroom, and when I didn’t find her there, I knew right where to go.
Like every high school, the students at my school were all ganged up in familiar groups. Separated into various categories were the jocks and cheerleaders, nerds, potheads, and theatre people. I was part of the theatre people group. The theatre group also lumped together all the people in the band. If you played in the band, you were also allowed to hang out in the band room before school started, after you had checked into your homeroom. Being that I was in theatre but not in band, I was tolerated, but I was still breaking all the rules by going there for homeroom. Today, this point seemed a moot one.
I didn’t have a plan, but I figured that I would just start asking for help. On my first attempt, my friend Beth said that she would ask her Mom if I could spend the night. Beth and her mother lived alone and they had plenty of room, so she didn’t think it would be a problem. Twenty minutes later Beth had cleared it with her mom, and I was to go home with her at the end of the day.
I was so relieved that I had a place to spend the night, but I still needed to ask around to find other places to stay. I was sure that Beth’s mom was not going to make this a permanent thing.
Leaving Home Part 15
School went by very quickly that day; it seemed as if everyone knew that I had no place to live. So very many people came forward and offered me a place to stay at their homes for a day here or a day there that I found myself overwhelmed several times during the day and hid in the bathroom. And even during this time I was being bullied in school.
The bullies in my school were some of the worst people I have ever met. The bullying started in sixth grade and continued for my entire Guilderland school life. There were times I found myself hiding in the bathroom as the bullies stood and waited outside, opening the bathroom door, screaming “faggot,” and telling me that I had until the end of the day to live.
Sometimes they waited for as long as it took me to come out. Finding out through the grapevine that I was now both a “faggot” and homeless was too much for them to take. The glee I could see in their faces as they either threw me into a locker or spit on me while they screamed various phrases, stayed with me for years. On this particular day, they muttered the words “homeless faggot” as they passed me in the hall, jerking their hands back and pretending to punch me. But even then, I knew that someday it would be different, and my revenge would begin on the day that I could write about it.
At the end of the school day I met Kerry at her car and she handed my bag over to me. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. Beth stood waiting for me on the curb. We had to catch the bus to her house. Climbing aboard, I was stopped by the driver’s announcing, “Whoa, hold on there, you don’t ride this bus.”
Beth and I explained that I was going to her house for the night. The driver told us that school policy required me to show permission from my parents. I was now forced to explain my story in front of a bus of kids listening to why I needed to be taken to Beth’s house. My explanation had little effect, as we were asked to leave the bus and get a note from the office. Someone at the back of the bus covered their mouth and blurted the word “faggot.”
We climbed off the bus. Beth went and called her mother to come pick us up after she got out of work. We sat on the grass facing the tennis courts and waited. Beth’s mother arrived and waved us over. While we were climbing into her car, she put her hand out and introduced herself. “Having a rough day?” she asked. “Uh-huh,” I said.
I was silent on the drive to Beth’s house, while Beth explained to her mother the course that my life had recently taken. Beth’s mom was a lawyer, and her face didn’t give away what she was thinking. During the drive her eyes switched between the rearview mirror where her eyes met Beth’s, and the road. She didn’t look at me.
We pulled into their driveway. I climbed out as Beth ran to her front door. As I walked around the car, Beth’s mother threw her arms around me and just hugged me. I could feel her mouth pressed to my head. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered, as she choked back a sob.
Leaving Home Part 16
I spent a couple of nights at Beth’s house and traveled to school with her in the mornings. So many people at school seemed to know about my life and what I was going through. My immediate concern was that I couldn’t find a long-term solution to my problem. I needed a place to live on a permanent basis. I was afraid to call the group home in Saratoga as I was sure that by now they had been told all about what had happened at the Equinox shelter and I would no longer be welcome.
My friend Laura came to me one day and told me that she had spoken to her parents on my behalf. It seemed that they would be happy to open their house to me and give me a more permanent place to live. Laura’s mom, a New Age therapist, had started a group for teens at her church, hoping to keep them out of trouble. One of her slogans was “Kids are goats, children are people.”
We scheduled a night for us all to meet three days later. I was to go over to their house and have dinner with the family. Laura’s two older sisters were off at college, so it would just be Laura, her parents and me. My time at Beth’s house was up. Even though Beth’s mother had repeatedly told me that I could stay, I thought it was best to leave. I valued my friendship with Beth too much to overstay my welcome.
Three nights later Laura waited for me after school in the parking lot to drive me to her house. On the ride she told me a little bit about her parents. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom who was working on her degree to become a licensed therapist. Her father had a full-time job, but was a musical theatre performer on the side. He had appeared in various community theatre productions in the area. Laura complained that he walked around the house naked belting show tunes all the time.
When we arrived at her house I was a little nervous to go in and asked Laura if we could just sit in the car for a minute. I knew that I would have to tell the story of what had happened to me and I was not looking forward to it. “My dad isn’t home yet, just my mother is here,” Laura said, as she shut off the car. I looked up at Laura’s house and thought that here is another chapter about to start, as I imagined her father singing in the buff.
About ten minutes later I was feeling better and ready to go in. I figured that I couldn’t sit outside in the car all night. Laura took me into the garage and we climbed the stairs that entered through a side door directly into the kitchen. We were immediately greeted by Laura’s dogs, two black-and-white retrievers who ran right up to us at full speed. Laura laughed and held her arms high in the air, making the dogs jump at her.
One of the dogs was ancient and looked at me through cloudy white eyes. She moved as if her legs didn’t bend and barked incessantly at us and into the air. The second dog, named Bear, was about two years old and kept jumping on me and running into the next room. “She wants you to follow her,” Laura says. Sitting on the counter watching all of this is Laura’s orange-and-white tabby cat named Boomer.
Leaving Home Part 17
Laura’s mother bounds around the corner as we walk into the living room. She is in her late 40s, with soft brown curly hair that is gently graying. Her face is slightly hidden behind a pair of oval glasses. Her eyes immediately crinkle at the corners when she smiles. “Hello!” she yells, throwing her arms around me. She pulls me in close as she hugs me with both arms, then shoots me back to standing in front of her.
“You must be Geoff,” she says cocking her head to one side. She has now taken my hands, one in each of hers. “I am,” I say. “You are,” she says, giggling. Her head is still tilted to one side. As we stand there staring at each other, she bobs her head as if she got it stuck when she nodded, and it is now skipping like a record.
“Well,” she says, sighing loudly. She is trying to tell me that she understands everything without actually telling me. I feel the therapist in her just busting at the seams. She shakes her head again, turns me towards the door, and wraps her arms around my shoulders. Then she brings me into an embrace and my face is smushed against hers. Now she begins to sob. It feels as though she is reliving the pain that happens when someone steals your baby. Her sobs become guttural cries, but she is trying not to make a sound. I want to run for my life.
I look out of the corner of my eye at Laura, who seems oblivious to what’s going on. Something tells me that this is normal for this house. Slowly I am being forced to walk forward by Laura’s mother; she is leading me back into the kitchen. She grabs a hand towel on her way and blows her nose in it.
Laura follows behind us and isn’t really paying that much attention to what’s going on. Her mother gently pushes me down to sit on a kitchen chair. Walking over to the cabinets, she opens them and asks if she can fix me a snack.
Boomer walks over to her, pushing his head up against her elbow. She smiles a meek smile at him and bursts back into tears. “We’re having a casserole,” she says, glancing back over her shoulder at me. ‘Nice,” I say. I am really wondering what kind of drugs the casserole will be laced with. Forgive me, but I’m thinking that Laura’s mother is a woman on the edge: the edge of sanity, the edge of reality, and The Edge of Night.
I resist the urge to run again. It is a strong one in me but I need to hold on. Unfortunately, I have nowhere to run. “This is it,” I think, “at least for tonight.”
Holding onto two of the cabinets, Laura’s mother begins to open and close them, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Laura walks through the kitchen and starts to go up the stairs. “I’m going to take a shower,” she yells without looking back. As she walks up the stairs, she unbuttons her shirt and pushes it off her shoulders. I stare up the stairs after her; she is now standing in a white bra and pants. She leans forward, unbuttons her pants and slides them down to her ankles. Her mother is still opening and closing the cabinets.
Leaving Home Part 18
At the top of the stairs is the bedroom that Laura used to share with her sister. Across the hall is the bathroom with a stand-up shower. I turn my head as far as I can to look up the stairs. Laura’s mother is still standing in front of me, but now she is just staring at the kitchen cabinets. She has paused in time.
I see Laura walk out of her bedroom and into the bathroom; she is wearing only her panties. The shower starts, but the door to the bathroom never closes. I can hear the shower curtain being pulled back.
“I’ll need to make something for dinner,” Laura’s mother announces, instantly coming back to life. I think of the Tin Man being given an espresso instead of an oil can. She suddenly begins to busy herself, opening cabinets and rooting through drawers. Upstairs, Laura is singing softly to herself as she showers.
“Here, put these on the dining room table,” Laura’s mother says, laying cloth placemats, silverware, and dishes in front of me. She immediately goes back to fussing, all the while muttering, “Oh my,” to herself while glancing up at the kitchen clock.
I stand up, taking what has been set in front of me. There is four of everything. I walk into the dining room, and begin to set the table. The dining room walls are lined with cabinets that clearly contain family heirlooms.
Well, these heirlooms haven’t been needed or used in some time. They clearly haven’t been dusted in years. I walk over and peer through the glass, seeing pictures of Laura and her sisters with pigtails and buckteeth, smiling out of old silver frames. Pictures of various moments deemed important in the life of her family are staged here to show how happy they all are.
While I’m standing there staring into the cabinet, I hear the door the kitchen burst open, and then I hear a masculine voice singing. This voice is a cross between Dudley Do-Right and someone pretending to be an opera singer. I hear Laura’s mother say “Hello, dear,” and I assume that Laura’s father has come home. The song he is singing at the top of his lungs is “How to Handle a Woman.” from Camelot.
While I continue laying down the dinner plates, the singing continues. Then I hear Laura scream from the upstairs bathroom, “Close the fucking curtain, you fucking freak.” I hear her father stop singing, giggle, and respond with, “Oh my, pardon me,” and then he continues to sing, “How to Handle a Woman.”
Leaving Home Part 19
I walk around the corner and back into the kitchen just in time to see Laura’s father coming down the stairs from the upstairs bathroom. He is still singing “How to Handle a Woman” but has given it a Merengue beat. He is shaking his hands as if they were tambourines on either side of his head.
He comes to the bottom of the stairs and faces me, stopping dead in his tracks. “Who the hell are you, and why are you in my house?” he barks at me. I look into his face; it is pinched and angry. His singing and hand shaking has stopped. Both hands are now held in fists down at his side. He has taken the stance that one might take at a Mexican Standoff. His eyebrows are large and wiry; he has let them grow wild.
His eyes are growing larger and his face more pinched with everybreath. I believe I am being put on; no one is this crazy. “That’s Laura’s friend Geoff,” Laura’s mother chimes in. “Remember? We talked about him last night at dinner?” He starts thinking and I can actually see the wheels in his brain turn. Suddenly his face brightens. “Anyone who lives in this house contributes to society,” he yells, taking his index finger and poking me in the chest. With that said he continues to walk on by, hands now shaking in the air and whistling “How to Handle a Woman.”
He walks down the hallway, turns into a room and slams the door behind him. I stare. “What the fuck was that?” I think to myself. I turn back into the kitchen hoping to get some sort of answer. Laura is standing by the sink. She is soaking wet with a towel wrapped around her body and eating string beans out of a colander.
“He’s an asshole,” Laura says to her mother. Laura’s mother nervously smiles. “Keep your voice down,” her mother responds to Laura, looking over her shoulder at me. She smiles and pushes her glasses back up with her shoulder.
“Is she afraid that I will think he is an asshole as well? Is that why she has shushed Laura? Is his being an asshole a secret?” I think to myself. I have a lot to ponder over dinner.
“Why doesn’t everyone go sit at the table,” Laura’s mother says in a sing-song way. Laura, still wrapped in a towel continues to eat beans out of the sink. Realizing that no one is moving, her mother sighs and looks at Laura. “Laura, go get your father,” she asks in a quiet and soft voice. Without moving one step in any direction, Laura screams out, “Dad, dinner’s ready.”
Laura’s mother looks at me and a nervous smile crosses her face. I’m convinced this family is nuts.
Laura turns on her heel and walks back up the stairs and I walk into the dining room. I sit on the side of the table furthest away from the kitchen with my back to one of the glass cabinets. Down the hall a door is quickly opened and slammed. Laura’s father rushes into the dining room and immediately sits at the head of the table.
He turns to me with a smile on his face and rests his face on his hands. Through clenched teeth he looks at me and says, “I’m the head of this family.” We stare at each other for a good five minutes. He never breaks his gaze. I am not sure if I am required to respond to this statement or not.
Leaving Home Part 20
Dinner gets stranger and stranger. Laura’s dad takes whatever moment he can to glare at me and mouth crazy words I can’t make out. He only does this when he’s sure that no one is looking. I keep glancing at Laura and her mom to see if they are seeing what I’m seeing. Laura’s mom slowly chews her food while she stares into the distance, the dining room lights reflecting off her glasses. Every now and then she sighs as if remembering a sad moment in her life. Laura on the other hand, winks at me when our eyes meet.
“What do you plan on doing for a job?” Laura’s dad announces suddenly breaking the silence. “This is not a free ride; I am not the head of a gravy train.” He raises his hand and bangs it on the table. The cups jump. Laura’s mom quickly comes out of her haze and mumbles, “Dear.”
Laura, on the other hand, tells her father to “Shut the fuck up.” Acting like a slapped dog, Laura’s dad returns to glaring at me. A long moment of silence falls over the table. Laura’s dad begins humming his favorite tune, “How to handle a woman.”
Laura’s mom comes out of her haze for the second time at dinner and slowly turns her head in her husband’s direction. A frown crosses her face. “I hate that song, it’s so degrading,” she says, looking directly at him. He stops in mid-hum, stares at her, and begins to sing at full voice, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake.” The title “Welcome to the Monkey House,” appears in my head.
Laura stands up from the table, grabs her plate and goes into the kitchen. She pauses in the doorway long enough to give her father the finger.
Laura’s dad takes this moment of my not being protected and swings his head towards me. “I assume you will be sleeping upstairs across the hallway from my lovely daughter Laura?” “I guess,” I say. “I haven’t been told where I am sleeping.” “Good,” he says forcing a smile through clenched teeth, just in case his wife looks over. “I patrol the house at all hours.” With this said, he stands up, steps away from the table, walks into his bedroom, and slams his door. For the third time tonight, Laura’s mom is jostled out of her haze. She shakes her head and sighs.
I’m not sure why any of this conversation is happening. I don’t have enough clues yet to put together the reason why there is such a huge level of dysfunction going on.
Leaving Home Part 21
That night I stay in the room at the top of the stairs and sleep with one eye open. No one bothers me and I end up getting very little sleep. In the morning I can hear Laura’s mother puttering around the kitchen singing softly to herself. I climb out of bed, throw on some sweats and walk downstairs.
Laura’s mother is busy standing over the stove with a spatula in her hand, making French toast. She looks up at me, smiles, and walks over with arms extended. She then throws her arms around me, pulling me in tight, and begins to sway back and forth. “Did you sleep well?” She asks “Yes,” I struggle to say. Her arms are wrapped around my throat so tight they are cutting off the oxygen supply to my head. She pulls back, looks into my eyes, pushes my hair back and mumbles, “Poor baby.” Her lip begins to tremble and a lone tear runs down her face. She wipes it off with the back of her hand.
Turning on one heel, she spins back to the stove just in time to save her French toast from burning. “Sorry about last night,” she says without looking at me. “Laura’s father is quite a handful.” I mentally answer her, not responding out loud. I know that family can be very close even if it seems crazy to the outside world. “Coffee?” she asks in the middle of pouring a cup for me.
I am so happy to have so many people care about me and my well being and I take a minute to thank whoever put me on the planet. “Thank God,” I say out loud. Laura’s mom spins around and looks at me. “God?” she says with a crooked smile forming on her face. “Hmmmmmm, that’s good that you believe in God.” She begins to tell me that her family belongs to the Unitarian Church in Albany. It is a church that welcomes everyone. Luckily, they also have a meeting in the basement after I get home from school today. I am informed that if I stay under their roof it is mandatory that I go to all church meetings held in the house.
Laura’s mother goes on to explain one of the main philosophies of today’s church group is that children have a voice. “Today’s meeting should help you; it’s kind of a therapy group,” she says excitedly.
“Oh, wait a minute,” she says, pausing in mid sentence. “I have just had a banner made up for today’s meeting.” With this, Laura’s mother leaves me and the French toast in the kitchen.
Sitting alone in the kitchen, I silently pray that Laura’s father has already left for work. I can hear Laura’s mother opening and closing the closet door in her room and then I hear her running down the hallway. She comes back into the kitchen with a long tube held in front of her. Removing a rubber band, she unrolls it and holds it out. The banner has large black letters printed on a white background.
“Kids are Goats, Children are People,” it reads
Leaving Home Part 22
School goes by too fast today. I spend most of the day watching the clock. What the hell am I about to encounter when I get back to Laura’s house? What kind of meeting is this? Is it a cult? Is there a goat involved?
All I know about church is that every Sunday my sisters and I were forced to sit not only through a church service, but Sunday School as well. The church service lasted an hour and Sunday School was another hour. We attended Hamilton Union Presbyterian Church.
I remember that the clock was at the back of the room where only the minister could see it. I would get whacked every time I turned around to look at the clock. Church was boring and torturous; our minister was long-winded. One thing that annoyed me was that my mother took to dressing us all alike. If we were clean and dressed well, that made her look good in the eyes of God and the congregation.
When I was young I was sent to a religious camp named Camp Hebron. My Mother told me that I loved it. I don’t remember that much about the experience. I do remember that I was sent home early for looking at some girl’s boobs through a hole in the wall. My parents were called home early from their vacation. Looking at girls’ boobs through a hole was apparently not a proper and wholesome way to discover the female of the species.
The end of the school day came and Laura was waiting for me in the parking lot. It was time to go to my first meeting. The car ride home was quiet. I cleared my throat a lot and Laura looked at me lovingly. As we pull into the driveway Laura looks at me. “Nervous?” she asks. “A little,” I admit.
I open the car door. The dogs are waiting. As I climb out and walk to the house, they jump around my feet. Walking into the kitchen, Laura throws the cars keys on the table. “We’re home,” she screams.
Laura’s mother buzzes through the kitchen, her arms full of papers and materials for her meeting. “Hello, children,” she says, pausing briefly. Her eyes look up as if she is reading what she just said. Pleased with herself, she smiles and heads down into the basement.
I head up the stairs and into my new bedroom. My throat is dry and scratchy; I’m not feeling too well. I try to tell myself that it’s just nerves. Cars begin to arrive, dropping off armies of children. I peek around the corner. I recognize Laura’s best friend Mark. He arrives with his little brother